He grew up in one of the most rural, most remote parts of the country, and considers himself to have the same values as the Colonials who lived in Pennsylvania more than two centuries earlier. But, he's also lived in urban America. He was a Philadelphia firefighter for 33 years, the last few in command positions.
After retirement, he moved back to his 75-acre family farm in Sayre, Pa., and continued his work in local civic organizations, becoming president of both the Greater Valley Emergency Medical Services and the Sayre Business Association. He's a member of the Pennsylvania Governor's Advisory Council for Hunting, Fishing & Conservation; and was president of the Unified Sportsmen of Pennsylvania, an association that claims about 20,000 members.
For 60 years, Ralph A. Saggiomo has proudly been killing fish and game, both small and large. Name a domestic species, and he's probably shot at it, wounded it, or killed it.
Whatever he killed-"dispatched" and "harvested" are the terms hunters euphemistically prefer-Saggiomo didn't have to go more than 3,000 miles to the subarctic mountains, he only had to go about 50 miles from his home to the Tioga Boar Hunting Preserve. Saggiomo's day of killing, a gift from his family, was in a fenced-in area.
"It was a wonderful experience," Saggiomo told the Pennsylvania House Game and Fisheries Committee, which was holding a hearing in equally remote Towanda, an hour's drive east of Tioga, away from the major media and in an area not likely to bring many protestors. The Committee was in Towanda to hear testimony about a bill to ban what has become known as a "canned hunt." For a few thousand dollars, Great White Hunters-complete with rented guides, dogs, and guns or bows-can go into a fenced-in area and shoot an exotic species. In most canned hunts, the animals have been bred to be killed, have little fear of humans, and are often lured to a feeding station or herded toward the hunter to allow a close-range kill. In some of the preserves-Tioga denies it ever used these techniques-animals are drugged or tied to stakes. Some of the "big cats," recorded by investigative undercover videos by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and by the Fund for Animals were declawed, placed in cages, and then released; the terrified and non-aggressive animals were then killed within a few yards of their prisons; some were killed while in their cages.
In December 2003, Cheney and nine of his friends-including former Naval Academy and Dallas Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach, U.S. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), and some Texas high-roller Republican party donors-went to the exclusive Rolling Rock Club in Ligonier, Pa., about an hour's drive east of Pittsburgh. The owners of the country club, being the good hosts they were, released 500 domesticated and penned-up ring-necked pheasants in the morning. Bird Dog and Retriever News reports that about 40 percent of all domesticated pheasants, if not shot by pretend-hunters, either starve or are killed by predators within the first week of their release; about 75 percent die within a month.
At Ligonier, starvation wasn't a problem. A game keeper told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that Cheney alone killed about 70 of the 417 killed that day. In the afternoon, having hardly raised a bead of sweat, the good ole boys slaughtered dozens, perhaps hundreds, of equally tame mallards that had been hand-raised and shoved in front of waiting shotguns for the massacre. No one kept score, but by the time Cheney flew out of the area, the mallards were plucked and vacuum-packed, according to the Post-Gazette, ready for flight aboard the taxpayer-funded Air Force 2. The pheasants the hunting party didn't keep, according to the Dallas (Texas) Morning News, were donated to a local food bank. However, no one involved indicated which food bank, nor did they acknowledge that preparing pheasant is cumbersome, and that such a donation, if it did occur, was probably more of a public relations ploy or a tax-deduction to justify their killing orgy than community service. Nor does any "donation" alleviate the reality that people in these non-challenging fenced-in grounds kill because they like the excitement of killing a live animal, often mixed with the sheer joy of watching their prey die. After awhile, the animals are seen only as things to be blasted, essentially living clay pigeons; it is an attitude that true sportsmen abhor.
The owners of the country club didn't say how much, if anything, the Cheney Pot-Shot Safari paid, but others who go to the exclusive country club/canned preserve pay for each bird or duck killed. It's in the financial interest of the owners to make sure there's easy prey.
Even easier prey was a black bear named Cubby. In October 2004, Troy Gentry, who had paid about $4,650 for the tame bear, killed it on a private "preserve" in Sandstone, Minn., and then tagged it as if the bear was killed in the wild. There was even an edited videotape of the "stalking" and killing by the singer who envisions himself to be an expert archer. There is no law against the murder of animals if done on private property. But, in August 2006, Gentry was in federal court to defend himself against a violation of the Lacey Act, which forbids the false tagging of any animal.
Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), with 10 co-sponsors, introduced a bill (S. 304) in February 2005 to ban the interstate transport of exotic animals for the purpose of them being killed on private preserves. "There is nothing sportsmanlike or skillful about shooting an animal that cannot escape," said Lautenberg at the time he introduced the bill, and emphasized, "In an era when we are seeking to curb violence in our culture, canned hunts are certainly one form of gratuitous brutality that does not belong in our society." That bill is buried in the Senate's Subcommittee on the Judiciary. A companion bill (HR 1688), introduced in the House of Representatives by Sam Farr (D-Calif.), with 39 co-sponsors, is buried in the Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security. Under the Republican-controlled Congress, neither bill is likely to emerge from committee.
Many of the animals on canned hunts are surplus animals bought from dealers who buy cast-off animals from zoos and circuses; the animals sold to the preserves are often aged and arthritic. Dozens of preserves have bought black bears, zebras, giraffes, lions, boars, and just about any species of animal the client could want, solely to be killed, photographed, and then skinned, stuffed, and mounted. Ralph Saggiomo's sheep may have come from a breeder in Missouri. The proprietors at Tioga, said Saggiomo, "were gracious, humane and helpful."
Those "humane" proprietors are the Gee family, which believes their "preserve" is really a private farm. Like ones that grow alfalfa and corn. A 1,550 acre private farm-with a fenced-in area of about 150 acres to make that "sure shot" more probable. And, while people "from all over the world" are killing animals at Tioga, the "farm" operation provides significant "economic benefits" to the community, according to Michael Gee. There are 14 Pennsylvania farms and about 1,000 in the nation that the proprietors believe are the poster children for the Chambers of Commerce and, most certainly, the Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service.